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Oman’s Aids to Navigation – AMNAS’ contribution to maritime safety

The marine environment

The Sultanate of Oman has a long and proud maritime history. Seafarers have passed along its ruggedly beautiful 1,709 nautical mile coastline for centuries. Deep water is generally found within five miles of the shoreline. Few offshore dangers exist, and where they do they are well charted.

The exception is the area along the Arabian Sea coast between the southern end of the Island of Masirah and the Halaniyaat Islands 200 miles to the southwest where reefs can be found up to 30 miles offshore. This is identified by the red ellipse in Figure 1. The blue star marks the location of a new port development project at Duqm.

Early mariners used the seasonal monsoon winds in the Arabian Sea to advantage as they sailed between the southern city of Salalah and Ra’s al Hadd; the eastern extremity of the Arabian Peninsula. The annual south-west monsoon or khareef which blows from late May to early October has an impact on the safe navigation of small vessels operating in the southern region as the number of old stranded wrecks dotted along the coastline shows.

Meteorological conditions in the Salalah region can give rise to patches of low dense fog, and cyclones sweep in from the east at approximately eight year intervals. Winds in the Gulf of Oman rarely blow stronger than force 6, except when the path of a cyclone carries it across Ra’s al Hadd as happened in June 2007.

Tidal ranges in Oman are comparatively small and tidal flows are generally weak except in the Strait of Hormuz and between Masirah and the mainland where rates can exceed three knots. The majority of vessels using Oman’s waters are small and do not carry sophisticated navigational suites. These small trading dhows, fishing vessels and recreational craft are just as important to an Authority supplying an aids to navigation (AtoN) service as are the VLCCs, LNG carriers and container ships that call at Oman’s ports and anchorages.

Early AtoN

The Arabic for lighthouse is minara (the place of fire) from which was derived ‘minaret’ – a structure which provides direction and guidance. The first lighthouse in Oman was built on the island of idamar in the Strait of Hormuz. This is one of the three islands lying about 10 miles off the Musandam Peninsula. European seafarers called the two wedge-shaped outer islands Great and Little Quoin after the quoin or wedge that was used to elevate ship-borne cannon.

The Shihuh tribe living in the Musandam named these islands mumar and didamar; ‘mother’ and ‘daughter’. The Committee of Enquiry on Lighting and Buoying of the
Gulf which met in 1909 recognised that a major light should be established to guide vessels through the Strait. Didamar (or Little Quoin) being conveniently  flat-topped, provided an ideal site for a lighthouse which was operational by 1914. Responsibility for its operation was transferred from the Indian Marine Service to the
Persian Gulf Lighting Service in 1951 later renamed the Middle East Navigation Aids Service (MENAS).

IIn the mid 1930s Oman’s second lighthouse was commissioned on the northern summit of Jazirat Masqat to guide mariners to the safety of Muscat cove. It is accessible by a rock and concrete path leading from the sheltered khawr below. In the middle of the last century Oman was served by just these two lighthouses. Then with the renaissance in the early 1970’s, demand for new harbours became a priority. Shore beacons and buoys were needed to guide ships into Port Sultan Qaboos, serving the Capital area, and Mina Raysut, serving the southern city of Salalah. MENAS continued to maintain these aids to navigation until Oman recognised that with its programme of significant maritime development, the nation needed its own AtoN service.

A national AtoN service for Oman

In late 2003, the Government of the Sultanate of Oman granted Arabian Maritime and Navigation Aids Services – AMNAS – a private limited company, the exclusive right and privilege to provide an AtoN service throughout Oman’s waters. As part of its service to mariners, AMNAS, under the guidance of its Chairman, His Highness Sayyid Shihab Bin Tariq Al Said, commenced a programme of refurbishment and enhancement of the existing AtoN. This included Muscat Light and the strategic  lighthouse at Didamar which AMNAS refurbished in 2006 at a cost of RO135,000 (US$350,650). Old incandescent lights were steadily replaced with modern  high-intensity LED lanterns.

Didamar and two other remotely located lighthouses were fitted with a remote transmission facility so that their operation could be
monitored in the AMNAS Head Office, located opposite Muscat International Airport. AMNAS has an office in the new Port of Sohar between Muscat and the Strait, and refurbishes its buoys at a main maintenance base in the Capital area and an out-station in Salalah. Replacement or new steel buoys are manufactured to the highest standards under sub-contract in Oman. Further details can be found at http://www.amnas-oman.com. The number of floating aids does not yet justify AMNAS operating its  own buoy tender, although this may change in the future.

Stephen Bennett, AMNAS, Sultanate of Oman
Edition: Edition 40

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